Egregious Product Placement: Sex & the City & HP

May 30, 2010
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I admit, the first time I saw new promotions linking Sex & the City 2 and HP, including the one below, it set my mind reeling.

After all, it’s an 18-second commercial advertising product placement.  (“Making their onscreen debut on May 27th in Sex & the City 2!”)  It’s a thing of brilliance!  HP was maximizing its exposure within a film franchise already very well known for its product placement.

But although my first thought was, “This will make a great Egregious Product Placement post for Antenna!” my mind quickly turned to confusion: “Wait a minute…Carrie Bradshaw’s a Mac, not a PC.”  After all, Carrie’s loyalty to her Macs has been made explicit throughout both the series run and the first film, and even functioned as a central plot point for season 4 episode, “My Motherboard, Myself.”  The PowerBook G3 is,  in fact, so firmly associated with the character that the partnership is listed in the notebook’s Wikipedia entry.

It turns out, I’m not the only one who’s been mulling this over.  Mashable notes that the switch seems particularly offensive given the near character status of Carrie’s Mac, sentiments echoed in this piece on Popeater.

The big computer switcheroo highlights some of the fundamental tensions inherent in product placement: including promotions without angering fans or disrupting the narrative while still highlighting products enough that audiences notice them.  It’s a difficult balance to manage, and in this case, it seems like HP might have forsaken the former in favor of the latter.  There’s no question that this partnership is anything but seamless or organic–the buzz alone reveals that.  The mere existence of this product within the story world–NOT, importantly, the actual treatment of such within the film–has become the news item.  The presence of HP computers in Sex & the City 2 has made the brand part of the story surrounding the film, not just a prop within the narrative.

So there are two issues here.  First, the issue of whether or not producers, in their efforts to recruit sponsors, are selling out in terms of narrative consistency in a way that both corrupts the story itself and also angers fans.  This leads to the second: the question of whether or not this fan backlash is a problem for the advertisers themselves.  Yes, it’s true that fans seem displeased with the switch–viewing it as a sellout of the highest order–and yet, there’s also a kind of genius to the tactic.  The additional exposure granted to HP from the fallout may, in many ways, be more beneficial in terms of exposure than any other promotional tool they might have used to promote their new line.  After all, when was the last time you heard this much buzz about HP?

But New York Magazine might be on to something with their quip that desire for sponsorship might cause the SATC women to swap their cosmos for Bud Lights.  Or maybe their Manolos for Payless?  If Carrie switches from Mac to PC, is nothing sacred?


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